What Were You Thinking?

It’s been sometime since I’ve taken a moment to sit down at the keyboard to type out my all-too-random and self-indulgent musings.  My computer told me that I haven’t updated or even visited the site since February 23rd.  Almost two and a half months.  Thanks to anyone who might read this for your patience as well as your time.

During the past several months, I have been in three productions and am directing another.  As much as I believe in the necessity of learning in a classroom, there is truly nothing as comparable as learning live on stage in front of an audience.  Learning by mistake.  Screwing up in public — a paying public.  Confronting the terrifying and unpredictable moment when large chunks of text completely vacate your mind.  Having no clue as to how to move beyond this blank moment — other than to stare dumbly, pleadingly, yet intensely into your scene partner’s eyes while he or she stares dumbly back as if to say, “Sorry, you’re on your own.”  That is, of course, assuming you do have a scene partner and aren’t performing a one-man or one-woman show.  Then it’s just a matter of shifting the dumb, pleading, intense stare out toward the audience.  (I’ve found that if you hold that dumb, pleading, intense stare long enough the audience will begin to believe that they are somehow at fault!)

There are many reasons for “going up” on lines, or, as in my case, huge passages of text.  There are some very legitimate reasons.  For instance, the woman in the back who randomly stood up toward the end of Act 1 and started waving her arms.  Perhaps it was an effort to determine where the air-conditioning vent was, or maybe she was just being friendly.  I’m not sure.  Or the individuals, and they are always, always in attendance, who decide or forget to turn off the ringers on their cellphones.  Nothing like the theme to American Beauty or Led Zeplin’s Kashmir occurring during the second act of a period play.

More often than not, however, it is my own fault.  I forget the text because I have failed to determine its value.  What it means to me and what it means to my scene my partner and the other characters in the play.  I like to remind myself — have to remind myself – constantly that there are no facts in a play.  There are only opinions.  Strong opinions.  Opinions so strong that they influence with an almost dictatorial precision my behavior on stage.  I think it was Elia Kazan who reportedly said something like plays and films are just like life with all the boring parts cut out.  I need to constantly remember that about the text the playwright provides my character.  There is no small talk.  Everything has purpose and is precise.

For each line that is spoken to me on stage, I have to determine two things:  What I Think about it and What I do Do about it.  I have a Reaction to it, and then I have a Response to it.  Sanford Meisner referred to this Reaction-Response as a Strong Point of View.  Sometimes my response mirrors my reaction; other times it does not.  Sometimes my response is opposite my reaction.  As actors, we fall into the trap of providing ourselves weak points of view to no points of view at all.  Weak Reactions followed by Weak Responses.  When we do this, everything becomes casual, unimportant, insignificant, and purposeless.  Casual, unimportant, insignificant, and purposeless things are easily forgotten.  (No wonder I am forced all too frequently to employ an intense and pleading blank stare!)

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